A career-best with experimental sounds at the helm
With the resurgence of the appreciation of the breakup album (especially in conversation with new stars such as Olivia Rodrigo), it is by no coincidence that there is almost universal praise of Wolf Alice’s album among fans of the band. Matured yet still signifying the vulnerability that fans know them for, Blue Weekend is a culmination of the band’s greatest talents. As described by lead singer Ellie Rowsell after the album announcement, she stated that the album is “for other people,” creating songs in which she believed would heal her own hurt. The result is a cohesive, albeit sonically experimental record in which follows a loose storyline of a breakup. The record distinctly creates visuals through its cinematic production work, leaving the listener with grand soundscapes of heartbreak, anger, and eventual acceptance of self.
The lead single, “The Last Man on Earth,” starts as a soft, poignant song in which the piano largely seeks to back the vocalist. Describing the narcissism that is present in her previous partner, the vocals become angrier, realizing the hurt she feels is largely due to the fact that they did not mesh completely. When she describes that he needs help, the instrumentals burst into cinematic artistry, creating a soundscape that envelops one in the revelation that results from fully understanding the whole of the hurt one feels. If one were to introduce the sound of the album to new listeners, the lead single does so beautifully, handling lyricism with sweeping yet vulnerable strokes.
“How Can I Make It Ok?” has some of the most shining production work on the album, beginning with ’80s synth-pop influences. The electronic instrumentals punctuate the more drawn-out verses before exploding to a chorus with the flourish of drums as the instrumental breaks throughout, constantly changing its meaning. Key changes make the song build in intensity, almost overcrowding the song into paranoia, desperately seeking their partner to be happy. It is a phenomenal work that reminds one of the best of traditional ’80s pop-rock. The vocals are also a highlight in the song, showing the sheer range of Rowsell’s talents. Like much of the record, there is a certain transportive quality to it—the production work truly allows the song to magnify into near-orchestral music.
However, the range of the band goes beyond these influences. Punk is the greatest influence for the track “Play the Greatest Hits,” which acts as a large break from the brooding pieces that precede it. Instead, the repetitive chorus descends into moral decay, with the singer screaming that the noise is not enough to drown out her sorrows. By following the previous song, “How Can I Make It Ok?,” it diverges even further from the rest of Blue Weekend. “Play the Greatest Hits” sidesteps any progress in which the singer has made. She instead aims to drown out the pain, describing sexual encounters she had as a result of feeling not good enough. It is an experiment that greatly pays off and enhances the rest of the record.
By contrast, “Safe From Heartbreak (If You Never Fall In Love)” is a subdued, stripped-down piece that shines with the same lyrical cadence as the beloved single “Don’t Delete the Kisses.” Rowsell’s vocals are as haunting as ever, lingering like a pause between a kiss. The instrumentals being cut to their necessities lets the production do its work. The backing vocals intertwining with the chorus is a poignant ballad to the ways in which she tries to close herself from vulnerability. Even if separating itself from the rest of the album in sound, it nevertheless belongs and is an admirable work done by the artist.
The bookend tracks “The Beach” and “The Beach II” are a perfect encapsulation of the album itself. The former creates a sense of pain, ending with the idea that she is not worth anything, while the latter shows the beauty of accepting yourself around friends. While it may be a simplistic and oft-done development in albums, this concept does not seem anything less than organic. The progression of tracks truly takes one through the many stages of grief that come from a breakup. They complement one another in the sense that the singer can go back to the beginning without being judgemental towards themselves. It is a satisfying conclusion that truly does not hit until the end. The entire album acts as an experience rather than a collection of singles, leading it to be one of the greatest projects of the year.
Blue Weekend acts as a fine example of the complexities of heartbreak. Even with different sounds, the album largely shows the instrumental, lyrical and vocal talents of the band in a shining new light, making it easily their best project to date. Not only are fans of Wolf Alice certainly pleased with the work, but this album also expands their talents to a whole new audience. There is truly phenomenal work here, and it deserves all its praise. It is truly one of the best albums yet of 2021.